Mansfield Opinion

Take it easy on the media

I have a problem when people starting ganging up on each other, especially when they start blaming a specific group.

Remember when black people were getting blamed for everything? Or Mexicans? Or Muslims? If you go way back, it was the Germans, the Japanese, the Catholics, the Jews, the Irish. Oh, and women, yeah, they just didn’t know anything.

I’m not going to pretend that I have known the kind of prejudice that any of these groups have faced, and still endure. I did receive a death threat from someone who thought I was black. (Do some research, people. I can’t even get a tan.) But I do know what it’s like to be discounted and told “not worry my pretty little head, the men will take care of it.” Yeah, that’s always fun.

But lately, I’ve seen another group taking a lot of hits, taking the blame for everything that is wrong with the election, the presidential campaigns and America. Whatever is wrong, blame it on the media.

“The media is dividing our country.” “The media is only reporting one side.” “The media is corrupt, uneducated trash.”

Ouch.

The media used to mean newspapers, radio, magazines and television, and the reporters, photographers, videographers and editors who produced them.

The old-style media has rules, a lot of rules. Journalists cannot donate to a candidate, or even put a candidate’s sign in their yard. Some old-school journalists don’t even vote because they think that it jeopardizes their impartiality. We also have rules about getting things wrong. There’s the mortal sin of misspelling a person’s name, and there’s the advertising line that journalists can’t cross. Don’t offer to buy an ad if the news outlet does a story about your business. You will offend a journalist and they will NOT forget it.

But the new guys don’t have these rules. Some don’t pretend to be news. And that’s fine, as long as it is clear that they are for entertainment.

The problem comes when special-interest outlets start posing as news, and posting incorrect, unverified stories. They write a one-sided story, not bothering to check to see if the information they get is correct or to call and get the other side of the story.

Real journalists with real news outlets can’t do this. Well, they can, but they are usually caught, embarrassed, fired and discredited, depending upon the severity of the offense. Almost always, an editor or producer will catch these stories before they get out and send the reporter back for more info or kill the story.

Special-interest sites, however, don’t have these rules. They are there to entertain and appeal to the masses, whether it’s people who like puppies or people who like bazookas. And just because it’s published on the internet, doesn’t mean that it is correct. Everything that looks like a serious news outlet isn’t. You have to look at who is putting out the “news” and figure out if they have an ulterior motive -- like they’re being published or sponsored by a specific group or ad agency that wants you to think a certain way.

These days, media includes anyone with access to the internet. You can start a blog, post that unicorns killed the dinosaurs and someone will see it, believe it and share it on Facebook. You can post your own Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, website, blog or Snapchat and tell people that eating barbecue five times a day makes you lose weight. If you look like you’re in pretty good shape, some people are going to believe you.

So the old-style media tries to compete with that, with readers and viewers who want to see beautiful people stuffing their faces with barbecue and losing weight. And the media stops focusing on Native Americans protesting a pipeline, instead devoting space to a reality star’s birthday party. Why? Because that’s what people want to read.

News is a business, and like any business, they have to make money. They do that by giving people what they want, what they buy. If a grocery store notices that people aren’t eating asparagus, but they sell out of ice cream every day, guess what? They’re going to stop selling asparagus and expand the freezer case.

Same thing with news. If you want information about Aleppo and gas well drilling, read that. If you want more school news, read everything you can find, then ask your favorite news outlets for more. But don’t just say you want it. You have buy the paper, watch the news documentary, click on the serious news site. They will know. They study their analytics and do reader and viewer surveys to find out which stories are the most popular.

I can tell you exactly what most Mansfield News-Mirror readers like -- stories about food, high school football and crime in their neighborhoods. Our readers like to know what’s going on in their schools, and they love to know what new businesses are moving into town. And you will see these stories regularly.

I know a lot of journalists, from Washington D.C. to California, Michigan to Texas. These are men and women who worked hard at a craft that has long hours (newspapers and TV news still go out on Christmas Day) and they do not get paid well. They have a passion for getting the news correct, sharing stories about interesting people and fighting for justice. They are moms and dads who spend time away from their families and sometimes can’t pay all their bills. Many have been laid off from a profession that is rapidly shrinking. Others are worried that they will be next.

All I ask is that the next time you see a news story that looks sensational or inflammatory, look to see if it’s a credible news agency or one with an agenda. And take it easy on the media. A lot of them are my friends, and one of them is me.

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